Azaleas and rhododendrons burst into bloom along Humboldt County’s Redwood Coast from April through late May each year. Western azaleas, a type of Rhododentron (Rhododendron occidentale), are one of only two rhododendron species native to the West Coast. In spring, clusters of highly fragrant, pink to white trumpet-shaped flowers blossom on these deciduous shrubs before their green leaves appear. Later in the fall, their leaves change color to golden yellow, orange, and deep scarlet (Pacific Horticulture Society). The deeper the pink in spring blossoms, the redder the foliage in the fall.
One of the best places to see western azaleas in bloom is the Azalea State Natural Reserve in McKinleyville. The Reserve is just a half hour drive north of The Redwood in Fortuna. Western azaleas grow best in open spaces with plenty of sunlight, such as the Reserve’s location along the Mad River. In order to sustain this azalea-friendly environment, the Reserve controls the growth of competing vegetation that would replace the azaleas through natural forest succession.
Visitors to the Reserve can see the blooming azaleas whether they prefer a hike, or just a walk on the short nature trail and lunch in the picnic area. The self-guided nature trail highlights facts about the azaleas as well as other plants that grow among the Sitka spruce and Douglas fir in the Reserve. The East Loop Trail leads directly to thickets of azaleas, then continues up stairs to a part of the trail that leads upward. At the top, hikers have great views of the azaleas in bloom. The half-mile West Loop Trail winds through a variety of North Coast plants like licorice and sword ferns, elderberry, and salmonberry before hikers reach the thickets of azaleas.
California’s Redwood Coast blossoms throughout the spring, from the Reserve’s western azaleas in April and May to the Pacific or California Rhododendrons from late May through June. Visitors can find these Rhoadies in the more northern Jedediah Smith, Del Norte, and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Parks and the Lady Bird Johnson Grove in Redwood National Park. Nearer to Fortuna, many different wildflowers bloom in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, including along the Avenue of the Giants, from late winter through May.
When you stay with us at The Redwood Riverwalk Hotel, your accommodations reflect our appreciation for nature among the beauty and serenity of the redwoods that surround Fortuna. Our guests enjoy green-friendly lodging, plus delicious buffet breakfasts to start each day’s adventures.
Let us help you plan your spring vacation in the redwoods – our website includes information about things to do and places to go in our local area, links to a travel guide and scenic driving tours. Then it will be time to choose the perfect accommodation for your stay.
Azalea State Natural Reserve
For more information about Western Azaleas, visit the USDA Forest Service and Pacific Horticulture Society websites.
Location: 5 miles north of Arcata in McKinleyville
Hours: Sunrise to sunset, all year
Phone: (707) 677-3570
Parking: Parking lot available
Driving directions: Take the Mckinleyville Central Avenue exit off Highway 101. Drive 2 miles east on Highway 200 (North Bank Rd.) to a left turn into the Reserve.
Photo by Jenny Moore, USDA Forest Service